Monday, June 30, 2008

Fun with Branding: Home Depot vs. Al-Qaeda

The following posting is intended for satirical purposes only and is based upon an coincidence of linguistics and marketing. No relationship between Home Depot and Al-Qaeda is suggested.

Back when I took Arabic language courses at UGA in pursuit of my masters thesis, a casual conversation with one of the Arabic program's professors strayed from issues of political and religious import toward matters of international marketing. Namely, the unfortunate linguistic foibles that Nike and Coke once experienced when marketing in the Middle East. But in discussing the potential fortunes and failures future marketers might experience in the region, we struck upon a most troubling linguistic coincidence:

"The Home Depot," he informed me, translated into Arabic, is pronounced Al-Qaeda (القاعدة). We're not making this up. Al-Qaeda literally means "Home Base." And without a more appropriate translation for the word "depot," Al-Qaeda suddenly becomes more than just a threat to the free world ... it's also America's number one Do-It-Yourself warehouse!

In fairness to the Atlanta-based do-it-yourself warehouse, most Western companies transliterate their names when operating in foreign countries rather than translate their names into the local tongue. But such an unfortunate translation might hinder Home Depot's prospects if they attempt to break into the booming Gulf coast markets.

So next time you hear someone say they're headed out to the Riyadh Home Depot for light bulbs, call Homeland Security (202.282.8000), duct tape the windows, and relish in stereotypes. The marketing just about writes itself. FB

Monday, June 23, 2008

Design Humor: 43 Seconds with John Stossel

On the surface, the following video represents 20/20's attempt to correct a long overdue omission – the historical lack of reporting on graphic design on America's longest-running and most-watched news magazine show.

But let the sudden appearance of Comic Sans be your first clue that this "clip" from 20/20 is a parody. In this case, a piece of satirical reporting produced by John Stossel at the behest of Winterhouse's Jessica Helfand for the AIGA National conference last year.

Regardless of its legitimate newsworthiness, enjoy Stossel's ever-so-brief report on three most common design mistakes Americans make.

Just in case you're screwed. FB

Friday, June 13, 2008

Damn Right Your Father Drank It

Just in time for Father's day, we were reminded of Beam Global Wine & Spirits and BBDO Energy's new advertising campaign for Canadian Club: "Damn Right Your Dad Drank It."

Canadian Club's campaign works a familiar theme once employed by Oldsmobile, though from an opposing tack. While Oldsmobile tried to distance itself from its aging audience with the poorly-conceived "It's Not Your Father's Oldsmobile" campaign, Beam Global embraces the older generation exclaiming, variously, "Your Mom Wasn't Your Dad's First," "Your Dad Was Not a Metrosexual," and "Your Dad Had Groupies."

The campaign launched last November with radio, out-of-home, point-of-sale, and print ads appearing in Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, Playboy, Men's Journal, Esquire, Outside, and Men's Fitness. These print ads were followed up with a street ad campaign featuring alternative titles ranging from "Your Dad Never Tweezed Anything" to "Your Dad Had a Van for a Reason."

One reviewer has asked if these ads represent an invitation to "return to the glory days of the hard liquor cocktail when beer was for factory workers and wine was for sissies? Can we now go back to the three martini lunch, pinch asses in the afternoon." Indeed, such an implication inspired Michelle Schwartz to launch her own project titled "Your Mom Had Groupies" which invites participants to submit their own designs using a mock Canadian Club template. Ironically, Canadian Club offers their own templated ad maker.

But despite qualms some critics have had over the campaign's overtly masculine tone, the Canadian Club ads do make masterful use of 60's and 70's imagery – from actual Beam Global employees, no less – to position dad as a once-cool man's man. And the ads do tap into a very real introspective process that men go through in their 30s and 40s, have kids, and settle down. They wonder, “Am I becoming my Dad?” Instinctively, we balk at the notion. But here, beneath the macho implications of the advertising copy, we see a representation of fathers everywhere that, if not accurate, is at least humanizing. At best, it's downright desirable.

My dad drove the derided Oldsmobile and avoided these lauded brown liquors. But I am drawn, nonetheless, to this campaign's message that, perhaps, dad was a little less "fatherly" in his youth. Of course, I knew that already. And I always though he was cool, the pimp Oldsmobile aside.

Ultimately, the message of these ads isn't any worse than their bikini-draped and oversexed counterparts in the beer industry. And they certainly aren't as directly sexist as the liquor ads of the late 70s and early 80s. At the risk of being crass, the new campaign's masculine overtones might even prove effective in reaching the target market for no other reason that the nostalgic humor they illicit between father and son.

Happy Father's Day. FB

Monday, June 2, 2008

Behold the Telectroscope!

There is a secret transatlantic tunnel running between New York and London ... and it has lain undisturbed for a hundred years. Now recently completed, this tunnel forms the backbone of an extraordinary optical device allowing people on one side of the world to see the other. Behold the Telectroscope – an incredible public art project by British artist Paul St George that is designed to provide a window between two great world cities, from Brooklyn Bridge in New York to Tower Bridge in London.

Between May 22 and June 15, 2008, this outdoor interactive video installations will link London and New York City in a fanciful simulated "telectroscope." Using broadband internet cable to transmit video images between the two venues at high speed, the Telectroscope gives the impression that the two cities are connected via a massive telescope under the Atlantic Ocean. London visitors will be able to wave down a massive viewing pipe into the earth and see New Yorkers waving back. Perhaps most impressively, this installation represents the first time that spectators will be able to have a real-time, life-size view across the pond 24 hours a day.

According to the Telecroscope's invented back story, the device uses an impossibly long transatlantic tunnel started in the 19th century by the artist's fictional great-grandfather. This story was realized as part of the installation through a series of pre-opening events that depicted huge drill bits erupting from the ground near the Brooklyn and Tower bridges, presumably completing the telectroscope tunnel.

In reality, the term "telectroscope" was first used by the French writer and publisher Louis Figuier in 1878 to popularize an invention he wrongly interpreted as real and ascribed to Alexander Graham Bell. That device would have allowed merchants to transmit pictures of their wares to their customers, the contents of museum collections would be made available to scholars in distant cities, and (combined with the telephone), operas and plays could be broadcast into people's homes. Sadly, this a device was a fabrication – at least inasmuch as it fraudulently claimed many of the properties of the simultaneously developing television.

The Telectroscope installation is a production of the Artichoke company, a London-based live event company best know for its 2006 staging of The Sultan's Elephant, the biggest piece of free theatre ever seen in London. Created by French theatrical magicians, Royal de Luxe, The Sultan's Elephant featured a vast, time-traveling mechanical elephant, and a giant girl, twenty feet high. Hundreds of thousands of spectators followed the show as it moved between the city's great landmarks, delighting in the massive 42 ton elephant made mostly of wood, operated by a team of over ten puppeteers using a mixture of hydraulics and motors.

The Telectroscope is only open for two more weeks – until June15. So if you're fortunate enough to be in London or New York before it disappears back into the earth, swing down to the river and peek across the world. If you're very persuasive, the instillation managers will even let you schedule your visit so that you can meet a friend on the other side of the pond. FB